Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California June 9, 2014.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. 1:09-cr-00265-AWI-1. Anthony W. Ishii, Senior District Judge, Presiding.
The panel reversed the district court's denial of a motion pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g) for return of noncontraband computer files, and remanded for further proceedings, in a case that required the panel to address when a criminal defendant is entitled to the return of his personal computer files when he has intermingled them with his child pornography files.
The panel held that the district court's decision not to put the burden of proof on the government was legal error, where the defendant filed the Rule 41(g) motion after he pleaded guilty and the government no longer needed his property as evidence. The panel held that the government could not have carried its burden of proof had the district court correctly placed it on the government, where the government failed to submit any evidence of the difficulty and costs of segregating the defendant's data, which it claimed was a legitimate reason for retention of the noncontraband files.
Providing guidance to the district court on remand, the panel wrote that the difficulty and cost of segregating data can be a legitimate reason for the government to retain the defendant's property, and the district court should deny the defendant's motion if the government has carried its burden of proof by producing evidence which preponderates to show the government's cost concerns are reasonable under all of the circumstances. The panel wrote that the district court may also order alternative remedies, including requiring the defendant to pay the costs of segregation.
Carolyn M. Wiggin, Federal Defender, Sacramento, California, argued the cause and along with Heather E. Williams, filed the briefs for the defendant-appellant.
David L. Gappa, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Fresno, California, argued the cause and, along with Benjamin B. Wagner, filed the brief for the United States.
Before: Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Ferdinand F. Fernandez, and Carlos T. Bea, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Bea.
BEA, Circuit Judge:
Many people store every aspect of their lives on electronic devices. Those devices are brimming with correspondence, schedules, photographs, and music. As a result, a crashing computer or a lost smartphone can lead to catastrophic results for a person who failed to back up that data; the only record for years of a person's life can be lost in an instant.
Criminals who possess child pornography are no different. Those criminals may likewise store important aspects of their lives on their electronic devices. But along with the normal risks of losing their personal data, such criminals also risk losing that personal data when the government seizes their devices for evidence of child pornography. To that end, this case requires us to address when a criminal defendant is entitled to ...